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anne mikolay 2018A friend’s Facebook post referencing the Covid-19 epidemic gave me pause. He posted: “This is the part where you find out who you are.”

Think about that for a minute. What does our community’s reaction to the pandemic and its accompanying social distancing reveal about us? While the humanitarian effort in our area has been off the charts, with people sewing masks for healthcare professionals in need and local restaurants delivering food for overworked hospital staff, certain contrasting behaviors reveal some Americans are just plain stupid.

Consider, for example, religious zealots (for lack of a better word), those who ignore social distancing in the name of religious freedom and put their right to congregate and worship before the welfare of the general public. These folks believe their devotion will be divinely rewarded with protection from misfortune, including Covid-19. Theirs is an egotistical faith that contradicts Christ’s law of love, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” Of course, in this case, “thy neighbor” is restricted to members of their congregation. While the power of prayer should not be dismissed, it’s a fool who believes  worship saves us from peril.

This experience is unprecedented in our lifetimes. It’s frightening. It’s deadly. But these are not entirely uncharted waters. As always, we learn from history, or at least we should. The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 50 million people, and like Covid-19, initiated mandatory quarantine. The 1918 pandemic stressed America’s health care system and led to the establishment of field hospitals and mass recruitment of healthcare workers.  Civilians and essential workers wore masks; public gatherings were banned.  However, some ignored the ban. Despite the 1918 pandemic and health care officials’ warnings against large gatherings, 200,000 people gathered in the city of Philadelphia for a parade in celebration of the allied victory in WWI. Within a week of the parade, 45,000 people were afflicted with influenza. 12,000 died within six weeks. This is history; this is fact, yet the stupid among us deny the need for social distancing and come together for spring break in Florida, weddings, Covid-19 parties, and gatherings on their lawns (as if the word “gathering” only applies to indoor crowds). Such cavalier attitude reveals a woeful lack of common sense and indifference to community welfare.

The surreal enormity of Covid-19 understandably leads to fear and panic, but some of our actions illustrate how easy it is to be controlled by fear. Thus, we have hoarders stockpiling toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, surgical gloves and masks. Hoarding reveals our fear, as does washing vegetables/fruit in bleach (poison) or wrapping oneself in plastic when grocery shopping. Fear is no excuse for ignorance. Some people don’t grasp the irresponsibility of discarding their protective gloves and masks upon the ground - or perhaps they do and don’t care. Our local Shoprite and Target parking lots are littered with surgical gloves. Did the stupid offenders give any thought at all to the poor worker tasked with cleaning the parking lots?

And now we have a petition circulating calling for Governor Murphy to reverse his order to close state and municipal parks. Petitioners are the same people who didn’t comprehend or follow social distancing in the first place and gathered closely together at Sandy Hook and elsewhere. If people had practiced social distancing and worked to “flatten the curve”, closing the parks would not have been necessary. “We’re all in this together” means exactly that. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! What you do affects everybody.

The many good works of the altruistic among us usually compensate for such stupidity, but not in this case. All the masks sewed/donated by individual citizens, all the bagels/pizzas/dinners donated to medical staff by local eateries, all the free rides on public transportation and free hotel rooms for healthcare workers, and all the prayers of the faithful will be for naught if we aren’t all on the same page.

To all the good-hearted individuals who rallied for the good of the community, whether it was in donating food/masks, hanging rainbows for children in your windows, joining a drive-by birthday party for a neighborhood child, strictly social distancing, or praying for our nation, thank you. You reveal the heart of humanity, the tried and true American spirit. To all the rest of you, don’t be stupid. Get with the program.

“This is the part where you find out who you are.”